Hartford “Sonny” Black Eagle, the adoptive Apsaalooke Nation (Crow) father of President Barack Obama, passed away in his sleep early Monday in his home on the Crow Reservation in Montana. He was 78.
Black Eagle was a traditional healer and spokesman for the Crow tribe, and his name, Alaxalusshixiassaah, means “Thundering Hoof.” In a 2008 ceremony prior to the first ever campaign visit and speech by a presidential candidate on an Indian reservation, it was Black Eagle who bestowed upon Obama the Crow name Awe Kooda Bilaxpak Kuxshish that translates as, “One Who Helps People Throughout the Land.”
Since he was a respected elder of not only the Crow, but to all tribes, Black Eagle had been selected by the former and late Crow Chairman Carl Venne to administer the traditional adoption ceremony to then presidential candidate Obama. After prayers were offered to the four directions, Obama was smudged with cedar smoke with the aid of a bald eagle fan, and given his new name. Thus, Obama not only became an honorary member of the Apsaalooke Nation, but became a representative of Indian nations across the United States. Upon being adopted into the Whistling Water Clan of the tribe, Obama said, “I like my new name: Barack Black Eagle. That is a good name,” prior to giving his 2008 campaign speech addressed to Indian country.
Obama, whose mother, father, and grandmother—who all helped raised him—have all passed, took his adoption into the Crow Tribe seriously and kept in regular contact with his adoptive parents. Upon hearing the news of his death, Obama called his adoptive mother, Sonny’s wife of over 60 years, Mary Black Eagle. Crow Cultural Director Burton Pretty On Top, who will give the eulogy during the funeral on November 29, said Obama called to give his sincerest condolences and spoke to Mary for about half an hour. The Black Eagle’s visited Obama personally on two occasions in Washington, D.C. including during his 2009 inauguration. A formal recognition of Sonny Black Eagle’s passing is expected to be given by Obama during next week’s annual Tribal Nations Conference.
As a man of peace and role model for younger generations, Black Eagle was never boastful about having the President of the United States as his adopted son, as he was equally proud of all his many sons and daughters who looked up to him as a father and father figure. Black Eagle truly lived by his life philosophy of, “There is but one race: Humanity.”